The Future of NIU Students

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The parking lots at Northern Illinois University are vacant for a second week as the university has extended spring break for another week due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Spring break will now last until March 22, at which time the university administration will announce future changes in class attendance and learning options. Currently, the campus is open with workers, teachers, staff, and administrators still working. Some select buildings and areas are still open including the Student Union, dining halls, library, recreation areas, and residence halls.

Tentative plans are to provide optional and alternative learning methods for the two weeks following the end of spring break (March 22). This direction may be the future of Northern Illinois University. This student-less campus concept may be the wave of the future for NIU, as well as other colleges around the country.

Whether it is e-learning, distant-learning or home-based computer classes, this COVID-19 shutdown may well affect the student population living and going to classes on college campuses. Last year, NIU President Lisa Freeman suggested that her goal was to add 3,000 more computer-based students to the NIU population by 2025. These students would live at home.

It is now possible for students to earn almost any degree they seek via online education, scholarships and financial aid are available to qualified students pursuing a degree online from many colleges. The traditional brick and mortar building college campus may well be challenged in the future. A study by Babson College found that one out of every four students is currently taking at least one online course. Currently, an estimated 5.8 million students are enrolled in online education, a 260% increase in enrollment over the past 10 years. 

Given that traditional barriers to higher education are removed with online education, it is understandable to see the high demand and increasing popularity of online education. Students enrolled in online education no longer have to live in close proximity to the school, nor do students have to adhere to a rigid class schedule. There is a great financial saving with students living at home.

With this flexibility, students from all over the globe are pursuing online degrees in a wide variety of fields, such as nursing, criminal justice, social work, business, computer science, information technology, healthcare administration, engineering, art, political science, and many more.

For the near foreseeable future, there will still be some students on college campuses. For Illinois colleges and universities that have seen declining enrollments, there will be many challenges in the future. But for now, the parking lots at NIU remain empty.

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